3D Printing In Architecture

If you think the word ‘printing’ is exclusively synonymous with mind-numbingly boring admin work and of course paper jams, you’re not alone. But you are mistaken. Printing has evolved by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. How, you might ask? No, unfortunately they haven’t figured out how to stop machines from getting paper jams (seriously though, get on that guys!) What they have done however, is replace boring 2D printing with exciting and revolutionary 3D printing. While 3D printing may not be a new invention (it was first introduced in 1986), the advances in 3D printing technology have certainly come a long way.

If you’re not up to date with all things printing, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 3D printers are still million dollar machines as big as your bathroom. Over the past decade they’ve been scaled to a size your every day paper printer could only dream of fitting into, and only as expensive as one of your pay checks (or two). So where is the technology currently at? And where will it lead us in the future? Well friends, I’m here to answer those questions and hopefully teach you a thing or two about some pretty awesome technology.

Where is 3D printing technology currently at?

In the current market we’re able to print a large number of different materials including plastic, rubber, clay, metal and even food. To fully understand the diverse technology that is 3D printing, I’ve decided to highlight a few of the different areas its being utilised.

1. Large Scale Application

Within the last year, we’ve seen Chinese companies build a 6 story apartment building, as well as a 2 story house (in only 45 days!). According to the developers, the house is strong enough to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. Another really cool use of 3D printing is the building of this bridge in Amsterdam.

2. Small Scale Application

This is the most popular use of 3D printing and the one you’re most likely come into contact with. We’re seeing a large number of small scale commercialised products being developed for use in personal homes, work spaces and universities. With the scaling down of the 1980’s technology it has allowed the everyday person to experiment and prototype different objects. Traditional manufacturing methods are limited in their complexity and are incredibly time consuming, not to mention the cost! 3D printing allows for the designer to achieve refined, detailed objects.

Mashable did a good explanation of this here: 

One University that has recognised the potential of 3D printing is MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology.) Their cross –disciplinary research lab the “Self-Assembly Lab” which invents programmable and self-assembly material technologies has pushed the boundaries in blurring lines between 3D and 4D (that’s four different dimensions)! This is actually where 3D printing gets super cool. How? Basically, MIT has figured out how to include the element of time, meaning each printed part will build itself into a finished product over time.


3. Nano-Scale Application

This is where 3D printing has the potential to make the most difference. The level of detail some 3D printers are able to produce is truly mind-blowing. Think of how this application would revolutionise the medical field, having the ability to reconstruct organs, blood vessels, bone, synthetic skin and prosthetics on demand. Not only will this make medical procedures easier and safer, but it will also improve donor availability. Unfortunately, even though the potential is there (shown in positive test trails already as linked below) one of the largest issues medical 3D prints are currently facing is the lack of viable donor materials. Being able to create a donor match when and where it is needed will save thousands of lives and drastically shorten donor waiting lists.

Check out some examples here:

What does the future hold?

The future of 3D printing can see us with lower productions costs, increased precision, more flexible designs, faster and safer constructions and more environmentally friendly buildings. Not too far down the track, I foresee 3D printers becoming a staple in most households and completely shaking up the way consumers interact with the market.

While we aren’t seeing as much 3D technology out in the world at the moment, there are number reasons we can expect to see improvements. Firstly, while the final product may be cheap to purchase, creating the technology and hardware that goes into it is quite a costly process. The technology still hasn’t been perfected to the level that we need in order to rely on accurate results consistently. We also can’t forget that the actual process of 3D printing is quite slow and tedious. Improvements are being made each and every day and all these constraints are slowly being reduced to eventually be eradicated.

3D printing is a really complex piece of technology, so I really do encourage anyone with an interest in the field to read up on it, because there is so much more out there than what I am able to cover here!

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, queries or doubtful points via email at lachlan@powearchitects.com

By Lachlan McKelvie – Architectural Assistant POWE ArchitectsLACHLAN Black and white

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Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of POWE Architects.